Photo/IllutrationPlastic waste accumulates at a disposal facility in Tokyo. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Increasingly unable to export garbage, the Environment Ministry on May 20 asked local governments to consider burning growing mountains of plastic waste at incineration facilities for household trash.

Japanese companies had exported their plastic garbage as recyclable industrial waste mainly to China. But at the end of 2017, China banned imports of plastic waste, in principle.

Now, disposal companies in Japan are stuck each year with an estimated 500,000 tons of accumulated plastic waste.

Industrial waste disposal companies in some regions, including the Tokyo metropolitan area, are facing difficulties dealing with the amount of plastic waste brought to them.

A ministry survey in March found that half of industrial waste disposal companies have seen an increase in the volume of plastic waste stored at their facilities.

To deal with the situation as an emergency measure, the ministry issued a notice to prefectural and other local governments, asking them to get rid of the industrial waste at incinerators for household garbage. The notice is not legally binding.

Of the 9 million tons of plastic waste produced in Japan a year, about 7 million tons are handled as industrial waste.

The sense of urgency to dispose of the plastic waste in Japan has been heightened by revisions to an appendix of the Basel Convention that regulates movements of toxic waste across national borders. The revisions will strengthen international restrictions on exports of polluting plastic waste from 2021.

According to the ministry’s waste regulation section, industrial waste disposal companies are permitted to store only up to 14 times the amount of waste that can be disposed of per day.

However, some of those companies are having problems observing the rule.

One person involved in the industrial waste industry said the companies’ only option is to depend on local governments to dispose of the plastic waste.